David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Mon 9 Jun 08 14:35
We're very pleased to welcome Joe Nick Patoski to Inkwell. Joe Nick introduces himself this way: Howdy from the Hill Country of Texas just outside of Wimberley and not too far from Austin (but far enough). I've been writing about music, Texas and Texans for a living over the past 35 years or so, and am the author of Willie Nelson: An Epic Life (Little, Brown), a book which profiles the life of the most important musician to come out of Texas and, I contend, the most important Texan of the past two centuries, It's also a book about my life, and my relation to music, since I get to write about Fort Worth, where I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, and Austin, where I landed in 1973, a year after Willie did. I had my first interview with him shortly after I arrived, and have been visiting with him on and off ever since. Leading the conversation with Joe Nick is our own Ed Ward. Ed Ward discovered Texas after Joe Nick did, but it was Joe Nick who tipped him to a job at the Austin American-Statesman while he was suffering as a secretary at Levi-Strauss in San Francisco in 1979. He got the job, and held onto it for five years, interviewing Willie Nelson (whom he already knew from his Atlantic recording sessions and several 4th of July festivals) several times and watching Joe Nick manage Joe "King" Carrasco and the True Believers, as well as help Timbuk3 make the transition from busking to breakout, all bands that Ward also wrote about. Although he lives in Berlin (and is about to move to France), he considers Texas a sort of spiritual home, and agrees with the Texas Music Office's slogan that "You can't hear American music without hearing Texas." Welcome, Joe Nick and Ed!
Ed Ward (captward) Tue 10 Jun 08 09:26
Thanks! Joe Nick, before we start in on that most iconic Texan, Willie Nelson, I'd like to talk generally about Texas and a bit more specifically about Texas music. Back in the '80s, I remember putting together a book proposal with Robert Draper to do a book on Texas music. We submitted it to a famous New York literary agent, who disparaged the very idea. "Why not a book about, say, Connecticut music?" was the response. But Texas music is as unique as the state itself, in my opinion. For one thing, it's conservative in the positive sense of the word: it saves, it conserves, it builds on the past instead of trying to re-invent the wheel. One vivid memory I have is going to a Bobby "Blue" Bland show in Austin in the '80s, when black kids in other urban areas in America were getting into rap, and seeing teenage girls screaming their lungs out at this somewhat elderly guy performing blues. Blues! Music other kids' *grandparents* didn't even listen to! And while conserving older styles, it's also managed to keep them fresh and put a new twist on them, in many cases. To some extent Willie is very much a part of this project, but I'd like you to comment on some of the other areas in which Texas music does this and maybe also to consider the question, why Texas? Why not some other state?
Joe Nick Patoski (joenickpatoski) Tue 10 Jun 08 10:49
Hidy Ed, Why Texas? I like to cite the Doug Sahm composition, "At the Crossroads," a song he wrote in the late 60s when he was in San Francisco, pining for Texas. Texas really is at the literal crossroads - halfway across the US if you're traveling the southern route, on the western edge of the Old South, at the front door of the American west, sharing the longest part of the border with Mexico, Latin America, and the Third World, sufficiently far enough from either coast to be provincial, and big enough to have its own distinct culture, of which music is the finest of the fine arts. More important, it's like Sir Doug said, "You just can't live in Texas, if you don't got a lot of soul." Texas ain't for everybody. As to the Why Texas Music? That book editor sounds like a real book editor; clueless to whatever's going on in flyover country. There is no such thing as a Conn. Sound, much less Iowa Music. The closest would be California, but like all of Cali culture, it's a matter of which California - northern or southern. Each is distinctively different from the other. On the other hand, when you say Texas, an image usually comes to mind, although often it's the wrong image, like the Greek who after asking where I came from, replied, "Oh yes, Tex-azz: cowboys, Kennedy, bang-bang." Point is, someone from Dalhart which is part of the Great Plains, and from Brownsville, which is in the semi-tropics, *think* they have much in common because they're Texans. The music aspect is hard to pin down. Most folks associate Texas Music with Willie, Waylon and the boys. The funny thing was, when Willie started blowing up in Austin in the early 70s, no one knew or used the phrase "Texas Music." Since then, it's become a sound, a radio format that's popular in these parts, and an all-purpose appellation that can cover anything from Texas country like Willie through Pat Green and Roger Creager, to the Texas tenor sound in jazz, jump blues as first defined by T-Bone Walker, the sophisticated R n B of Bobby Bland, the country blues of Mance Lipscomb and Blind Lemon Jefferson, the city songster blues of Lightnin' Hopkins which can be directly linked to the singer-songwriter tradition popularized by Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Nanci Griffith, Robert Earl Keen, and Lyle Lovett. Texas Music in the rock and roll realm is Buddy Holly, who invented his style in the isolated vacuum that is Lubbock Texas, Roky Erickson and the 13th Floor Elevators, who in the great Texas tradition went 'way overboard in their interpretation of psychedelic music (understand, we're crazy from the heat), ZZ Top, who took the boogie beat to the great unwashed, and modernists from Joe Ely to At the Drive In to Future Clouds and Radar. Then there's the Mexican influence on Tex-Mex, Tejano and conjunto and even pop (think: "Tequila" by the Champs, "Talk to Me" by Sunny and the Sunliners, or even Augie Meyer's "Hey Baby, Ke Pa So"). From Lydia Mendoza and Narciso Martinez who made records for Bluebird back in the 1920s to Little Joe y La Familia, Selena, Flaco Jimenez, and Esteban Jordan, the Jimi Hendrix of the Accordion, the Latin element of Texas Music is as old as the tradition of the corrido, which spread news through Spanish-speaking communities in song instead of in print or on television. Corridodistas in San Antonio are still writing topical songs today and having them played on KEDA AM, Radio Jalapeno, the only conjunto station in the nation. But even if a Texan can't speak a word of Spanish, it's in our blood, on our plate (Number 2 Dinner, anyone?), and in our music. Our Mexican food doesn't taste like Mexican food in Mexico; so it is with our music. I love the fact that through the late 19th through the mid 20th century, Mexican-Americans in Texas soaked up the traditional sounds of German, Czech, and Polish immigrants in Texas at dances, then appropriated the polka and pepped it up into a Nowhere But Texas sound that endures today. It is unique among Latin sounds in the United States and elsewhere. My contention is, Texas music can be traced to our storytelling skills around the campfire back in the cowboy days and has been evolving ever since. It's a personal, emotional part of our culture. Most musicians still perform music live and direct for the audience it was intended for, ie. real folk music. And we're far away enough from everywhere else and so full of ourselves, we don't need the approval or acceptance of audiences beyond our borders, although when that happens, it sure is nice to be validated by others. The one quality that runs through all those sounds is that they're soulful. You just can't live in Texas, or make Texas music, if you don't got a lot of soul. Sir Doug was right. And Willie has proved that some provincial music can resonate far beyond our borders. I forgot you and Draper pitched a book on Texas Music. You would likely be better served by doing one yourself, although I contend Draper's paperback on ZZ is a semi-classic. There was one Texas Music book Rick Koster that tried to cover the subject but was pretty much a mess and Gary Hartman, the director of the Institute of Texas Music History at Texas State University in San Marcos, has just put out The History of Texas Music through Texas A&M Press that makes at better attempt at explaining the subject. Then there's Alan Governor's massive book in the works for Texas A&M that tackle the history of Texas Blues. Rather than quibble with any of those titles, I'd rather reference my own work which attempts to address the Why Texas and Why Texas Music questions through the life of Willie.
Ed Ward (captward) Tue 10 Jun 08 11:35
Yeah, this pitch was made right after Robert's ZZ Top book. And rather than the campfire, I think that Texans have always been social, whether telling stories outdoors or visiting each other's farmhouses. This has led to a demand for live music, and that demand still exists. Real estate for a club or a dance-hall has never been at a premium, people have always had cars to drive out into the outer reaches of the cities or into the country, and yet the very bigness of Texas has fostered a kind of isolation which is where that conservation comes in. One thing I noticed early in my visits, way before I moved there, was that Texans would rather dance to a live band playing country hits not so well than dance to the actual artist doing them perfectly on a jukebox. This attitude has offered a lot of working musicians jobs, and the opportunity to hone their skills. Which does, in fact, bring us to Willie. There's both polka and western swing in his background, right?
Joe Nick Patoski (joenickpatoski) Tue 10 Jun 08 14:39
There's a little town up in the eastern Panhandle, less than 60 miles from Kansas, called Lipscomb. It's the artist colony of the Panhandle if there can be such a place despite the fact I counted more wild turkey on the courthouse lawn than people. Annie Proulx did some prairie research there a few years back. Every summer on the first weekend of the month, the town recreates the old days with a platform dance. A wooden platform is constructed on the ground and there's an instant dancefloor on the prairie. A Lubbock fiddler named Lanny Fiel is responsible for reviving the tradition. You can read about him at ranchdance.com I think that speaks to the sense of community music brought to isolated rural communities when the Anglo pioneers pushed west. But Spanish colonists had already brought music instruments with them when they migrated up from Mexico, and the Comanche, the Apache, and the Caddo all had their own music and mythology. Even the ancient peoples must have made some kind of rhythm to go with the psychotropics that inspired the vividly wild cave paintings along the Rio Grande, Pecos, and Devils rivers. So it's always been here. Modernists in the 20th century from Eck Robertson, the first country music recording artist, to Bob Wills to Willie and Waylon were simply early adapters. You make me laugh with the edge of town reference. No matter what I think, historians have typically delegated popular music, especially country, to low art status, largely because that's how community leaders viewed it, even if they themselves danced - "If y'all want to go dance and drink and who knows what all, then do it beyond the city limits." Plus, rent's cheaper on the edge of town and music halls were rarely considered successful business enterprises. And go 'way beyond town if you're doing stuff against the law. While researching, I loved the story Steve Bruton told about the Western Swing musicians mixing with the black swing, jazz, and blues musicians back in the 30s and 40s. Some of that happened in black hotels and bars where whites could cross the color lines. But lots happened in grave yards outside of town because nobody went to those places after dark. I like your observation about dances. I think you're right. Live bands are better than the jukebox, although in some settings, the jukebox was all you had. That kind of cover music remains the bread and butter in many rural pockets of Texas, especially inside the San Antonio, Houston, Dallas triangle. But someone the other day called into KOOP radio asking if dancing was already on the way out when Willie played the Armadillo. They were right in a way. That hard core honky tonk scene that Ray Price ruled was fading. All that's really left in Austin is the Broken Spoke, where couples of all ages are still dancing country to a live band. Last few times there I've realized how wonderful and how precious it is. A reunion of Alvin Crow and the Pleasant Valley Boys blew me away because I'd forgotten what great swing players they were. Western Swing is the essence of Texas Country. It was born in Fort Worth but was extremely popular throughout Texas, especially San Antonio and Houston. The scene in Waco, 25 miles from Abbott where Willie grew up, was extremely hot. Hank Thompson had a radio show there as a teenager while pickers like Johnny Gimble, Cotton Collins (composer of "Westphalia Waltz" and once part of Kenneth Threadgill's Velvet Cowpasture), Leon Rhodes, Clyde "Barefoot" Chesser, Billy Walker, and Chester Odom were all over the place. Willie cited Bob Wills several times as his main influence for putting on a live show; he really liked that Bob would go from one song to another without stopping. Bobbie Nelson told me her father took her several times to Fort Worth to see Bob Wills play. Bud Fletcher and the Texans, the band that Willie joined as a 13 year old featuring his 16 year old sister and his 22 year old brother-in-law Bud Fletcher, was the Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys of Hill County because they played Western Swing and had fiddles and a sax in the band. So that was a major influence. And understand, Western Swing was/is really nothing more than guys and gals in cowboy hats playing songs where the musicians get to play featured improvised leads. Polka was Willie's ticket out of the cotton fields. He was paid $8 to perform with the John Rejcek Polka Orchestra at a very tender age. Mr. Rejcek had given Willie's granddad a job at his blacksmith shop when the Nelsons arrived from Arkansas four years before Willie was born. Mr. Rejcek evidently liked young Willie because he let him play strum acoustic guitar in a family band full of tubas, trumpets and accordions. Once Willie made money playing music, he didn't look back and soon gravitated to hang out in honky tonks despite his tender age. Czech communities still dot central and south central Texas, inside the Texas triangle, and West, six miles south of Abbott was a hotbed of SPJST Halls, polkas, beer drinking and other Czech traditions that were considered exotic and even evil by the temperance-inclined Methodists and Baptists that Willie grew up with. Most Czechs stayed in West and did not cross the line to live in Hill County and Abbott when Willie was growing up. Two Czechs told me stories about being discriminated against ("We were treated worse than the Spanish") and how they fought back ("I called them biscuit eaters.") It was a true culture clash that John Rejcek bridged by living in Abbott and by giving a local kid the break that changed everything. I really dug that Willie's never let his polka experience fade. Joe Gracey told me about engineering lots of recordings for Willie in the 90s that he phoned in to Jimmy Sturr, probably the most popular polka artist in the US, for his albums. Try hollering a request for "Beer Barrel Polka" at a Willie show. If he hears you and you catch him at the right time, he'll do it, I'll bet. ds
Ed Ward (captward) Wed 11 Jun 08 04:28
I was at a show at Soap Creek once where Willie asked them to vote whether the band should do "Proud Mary" or "Wipeout" next. Sadly, they went for the Creedence tune. I'm still not over that. As for black and white musicians mixing, I remember sitting up straight a couple of years ago when I read an interview with Ornette Coleman where he remembered loving to jam with some of Bob Wills' musicians. "They played bebop, you know," he said. Not at all surprised. And if Texans aren't doing the old dances, I hope they're not doing line-dancing. Germans are big into line-dancing, and they never believe me when I tell them it was invented by a Puerto Rican choreographer from New York, Toni Basil. Yup, the "Mickey" gal. There's another Texas tradition Willie's tapped into, too: honky-tonk songwriting. The influence of people like Lefty Frizell and Floyd Tillman (speaking of Western Swing: that's where he started) is integral to the songs that made Willie famous. Just for the sake of clarity, since "honky tonk" has sort of become a broad term these days, why not say something about this genre as it was originally conceived. For one thing, the electric guitar, which another Texan, Ernest Tubb, pioneered, is pretty integral to it.
Joe Nick Patoski (joenickpatoski) Wed 11 Jun 08 07:29
I would've gone for "Wipeout" too but he was prolly reading the crowd correctly. I think at one time, "Proud Mary" was the most performed song in the world, or something like that. The Ornette ref reminds me of Dewey Redman telling me back in the 70s that he'd remembered Ornette walk the bar at the New Blue Bird Nite Club in FW back in the day. When I heard him at Carnegie a few years ago was hearing that Texas tenor tone in his playing, no matter how futuristic it sounded. The good news is, line dancing had it's moment back in the achy-breaky days. As for honky tonk, yep, that is the other dominant root strain running through Willie's music in addition to Western Swing. Willie emulated some of Lefty's singing style but Floyd, who wrote country music's first cheating songs, was a major influence. Go back and listen to Floyd's "I Want My Baby Back" and you'll hear the inspiration for Willie's "Crazy." Honky tonk was beer joint music and while you could and did dance to honky tonk, the emphasis was more on sad songs than danceable songs, and was more directly linked to jukeboxes than Western Swing. Swing was all about live big bands. Honky tonk was played by smaller combos and was appreciated on record and jukebox more than Western Swing was. Plus, its reach was far greater, mainly because everybody likes sad songs. Tubb, too, influenced Willie, first via his daily radio show from Fort Worth, later in Nashville, where he really took Willie under his wing and featured him in his television show. ET was the complete showman (think the "Thanks A Lot" message on the back of his guitar) and Willie paid attention.
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Wed 11 Jun 08 08:43
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My free and simple demeanor set everybody at ease. (pdl) Wed 11 Jun 08 09:24
i just started the book and I think it is excellent. I really love all the info, context, and background about willie, texas music, texas, and arkansas in the early chapters. The singing schools, the shape note singing. There's so much interesting stuff. i have two somewhat random questions. I was fascinated by the music degree that Nancy Nelson earned through a correspondence course from the Chicago School of Music. The whole idea of a correspondence course in music is interesting to me. Given the location of nelson's residences and the transportation and communications infrastructure available to them, i can understand the value of these course and why people pursued them. What I am curious about is what the music correspondance courses consisted of--do you have any additional information about what Nancy's coursework was like? What nancy had to do to complete her degree? The second question is regarding Jim Beck's studio. I was completely unfamiliar with this, but it seemed like a fascinating bit of history. Can you say anything more about Jim Beck and his studio? (also i gotta say--the waco honky-tonk scene in the early 50s! who knew?!)
John Ross (johnross) Wed 11 Jun 08 10:34
Not specifically related to Wiillie Nelson (or is it?), but how do the "Texas-style" fiddlers who came after Eck Robertson fit into the larger picture? I'm thinking of people like Herman Johnson, Benny Thomasson, Dick Barrett and the others who define a particular type of fiddling that dominated the contest fiddle music scene over many years.
put me in coach, I'm ready to play (watadoo) Wed 11 Jun 08 13:20
I just finished the book two nights ago so it's very fresh in my mind. I learned more about Texas music in a few nights then I knew there was to learn. ;-) A highly pleasurable read. I really loved the road stories having been part of the Elvin Bishop family for 10 years and FOH mixer on our small crew. I'm sure there are many stories untold (i've got plenty of my own I don't dare tell my wife, even though they happened 18 years ago), though what did make it to your book was might fun reading. The other unexpected pleasure I got from your book was the info I gained about Waylen, long my favorite songwriter. Next book about Waylen maybe??
Joe Nick Patoski (joenickpatoski) Wed 11 Jun 08 13:30
pdl, Thanks for the comments. Context is everything to me. My subject could be static for all I care (thankfully, in this case, he is not) because it's filling the void around the character that makes writing a biography so much fun. Willie didn't spend too much time talking about Arkansas or his grandparents' connection to music in his own autobiography written with Bud Shrake 20 years ago, but it fascinated me. The first traveling I did for the book was to go to Arkansas to see where the Nelsons came from. I found the family homestead and the foundation for the one-cylinder engine that powered his great granddaddy's forge in his blacksmith shop. The land in north central Arkansas looks a lot like the land where Willie's ranch is west of Austin, and Ridgetop in Tennessee where Willie moved once the songwriting royalties started rolling in during the early 60s. Good question about the correspondence music school. Indeed in those days, correspondence schools were critical, since places like Pindall Ridge in Arkansas and even Abbott Texas were somewhat isolated. I don't have specifics about what the courses conveyed, but they did inform Nancy's ability to compose music, and to teach singing via the shaped note method. Willie remembers little of this, but his older sister Bobbie was pretty good recalling the correspondence course and their grandparents' devotion to music. This is an educated guess, but the course lessons came by mail, Nancy did the lessons and returned her papers and she was then graded. Eventually she successfully completed the curriculum and received a mail order degree. Jim Beck was a pioneering audio electronics geek who built his own studio and got such a good sound, Don Law took his Columbia acts to Dallas and Decca was sending acts to Beck before Bradley's Barn in Nashville got going. Beck's rep was established by getting a good sound on the earliest recordings of Ray Price and Lefty Frizzell in 1950 and later, Billy Walker, Marty Robbins, and Carl Smith. He recorded live shows at the Big D Jamboree and many of the headlining acts on the Big D in his studio. He actually built two studios, one on Forest Ave. in Dallas and one on Ross Ave. Beck died from carbontetrachloride poisoning - inhaling cleaning fluid while cleaning his equipment in 1956. Billy Walker said that had Beck lived, the recording industry that is in Nashville would instead be in Dallas, he was that much on an innovator. Beck's sidekick, another storied Dallas character named Leo Teel, is still alive and living in Grand Prairie. He's got lots of Willie stories. John Ross, I should actually ask a few of my son's friends who do fiddle contests around the state before I place foot in mouth. But I will say, my take on why Texas fiddle is very different from Appalachian fiddle, is backed on it being of the key instruments in Western Swing ensembles, suggesting Stephan Grapelli or Joe Venuti is as much as an influence as anyone from Kentucky or Tennessee. Texas fiddle is also less rooted in the Scottish, Irish, and British traditions that defined country fiddlers from the east, mainly because the farther you are from the original source, the less likely you're going to try to play the old style as faithfully. Besides swinging more, Texas fiddle is still tethered to dance music - I'm thinking Darrell McCall telling me he moved to Texas because country dance crowds were all about "fiddles and steel," although dancing is rare at fiddling contests. Alvin Crow and Johnny Gimble are both great examples of the contemporary Texas fiddle style. Hey Coach, thanks, especially coming from someone in the bidness. (send a shoutout to E for me). Of course there are many stories still untold. The one thing I came away from the round of book signings in Texas is, everyone's got a Willie story. I'm hoping this book prompts band and crew members to sit down and share some of their stories, and I have personally tried to convey that to all who are around Willie. This book lays down a marker. Others hopefully will follow. One of the most fascinating aspects of Willie Nelson and Family in the here and now is their rep as a road band and crew. They are a state-of-the-art touring organization and I'd contend they are regarded among their peers as the top of the line, rivaled only by the Grateful Dead's crew. Drivers Gates Moore and Johnny Sizemore have been recognized for breaking Hoot Shaw's record of driving more miles for a single act. Hoot drove for Ernest Tubb. Remind me someday and I'll try to relate the story Poodie Locke told me recently about promoter Larry Trader, one of Willie's "thieves" having to be helicoptered out of the 1980 Fourth of July Picnic on Willie's golf course, mumbling,"I've told too many lies, I've told too many lies."
Joe Nick Patoski (joenickpatoski) Wed 11 Jun 08 13:33
Time for a shameless self-promotional plug: I'll be reading and signing books at Book Soup on Sunset Blvd in Los Angeles this Saturday at 2pm Earlier that Saturday, June 14, at 11 am, I'll also be on the Twang With Cowboy Nick show on KSCN FM 88.5 in the LA area. And at High Noon Weds I'll be signing books at Felix Chevrolet in downtown LA. You get a free book if you test drive a Chevy. Honest.
Ari Davidow (ari) Wed 11 Jun 08 13:42
One of my favorite music days was a Willie Nelson Fourth of July picnic, must have been July 1973. We pulled into Dripping Springs about 6am and Willie and Leon Russell were already jamming on stage. Of course, at the time I was into rock 'n' roll, and couldn't believe I'd been forced to attend. Hah.
Joe Nick Patoski (joenickpatoski) Wed 11 Jun 08 14:59
Ari, That was the first picnic. The previous year, the Dripping Springs Reunion was held on the same site in the spring, but it was largely an attempt by outside promoters to do a country music Woodstock that failed. Country fans weren't ready for a day in a field without shade in July just to hear music. Rock fans were. The redneck/hippie dichotomy was already in play. The idea of the Dripping Springs Reunion was great, but the crowds were small, largely because the rock audience, the hippies, were not targeted , although a good number of longhairs showed up. The 1973 Fourth of July Picnic was a Willie deal, organized with Willie's promoters and the Armadillo World Headquarters crew, who knew all about staging and logistics, while most country bands were still working without monitors. Your memory nails why '73 was so important despite the fact it didn't break even, crowds tore down the fences, and fights broke out on and off stage. The presence of Leon legitimized it all. Texas rockers into Leon were willing to do the country thing even if they'd balked at Willie, Waylon or the Byrds or Burritos. When I was researching this book, I reassessed Leon's significance. Willie saw what Leon was doing and he wanted to be like him more than he wanted to be Waylon, Ray Price, or Johnny Cash. Leon was already bridging the gap by selling a twangy, country sort of rock to kids in Texas and everywhere. Leon knew Willie was the real deal and wanted some of that mojo, which Willie obliged by introducing Leon to lots of Nashville people. Willie got the better part of the bargain, glomming on to Leon's self contained empire and eventually getting his own compounds at the Austin Opry House complex and then the golf course/recording studio/condo setup at Pedernales, his main headquarters. Once Red Headed Stranger hit the charts, Willie zoomed past Leon in his audience draw. Leon never saw it coming. Hey Watadoo, Thanks for the comment on Waylon. That relationship was a tough one to write about, because they really did break out of the Nashville jail together and built a brand together. But I didn't find them as tight as the public perceived them to be. Waylon's autobiography written with Lenny Kaye is a pretty great bio. I'm not sure I could top that, although the back end and the earlier years could certain be delved into with more depth. I don't know what the next is. There isn't another Willie in my mind, and certainly not someone of his import who's been right in front of my face for the past 35 years of my writing. I'm keeping my eyes open and my ear to the ground. In the meantime, I've got a cool writing project to profile ten families in the American west noted for their exemplary land stewardship.
sonically gorgeous with no real content (watadoo) Wed 11 Jun 08 20:34
I had an opportunity to party with the boys in the band once about 15 years ago. Elvin was playing Farrah's Tahoe and Willie was right across the street at Caesars. Between our shows we strolled over to hang out. While Willie and Elvin set up in a corner of the dressing room and talked each other's ears off, the musicians and crews (It's really all the same) hung out and drank and shot the shit. Funny, I'd seen the movie Honeysuckle Rose a few years earlier and suddenly it dawned on me. "Hey you guys are gawdawn movie stars!" "Damn right we are" was the response. A good time was had by all and Willie Shook my hand when Elvin introduced me. I've never forgotten how gentle and gracious he was with his time. I wasn't surprised one bit to read in your book how he'd spend oodles of time signing everything there was to sign after a gig.
put me in coach, I'm ready to play (watadoo) Wed 11 Jun 08 20:34
That's Harrah's Tahoe, of course.
surly guy in a tux (kurtr) Wed 11 Jun 08 22:05
Hi - I'm diving iunto the book and am enjoying it. A lot of my interest in Willie Nelson came about because I knew of him as a songwriter with a foot in Tin Pan Alley as well as country - western. As a guy who is primarily a jazz musician but with an interest in country music (actually, I just plain like music and good songwriting), I find Willie Nelson an especially interesting figure. I appreciated the explanation of shape-note singing. I often see older church hymns described as "shape-note hymns" and was glad to get some explanation.
Ed Ward (captward) Thu 12 Jun 08 05:22
Joe Nick's probably on his way to L.A. at the moment, but I think he should expand just a bit on the Felix Chevrolet gig. That's a fine piece of history there. And didn't Willie and...I'm trying to remember here...Roger Miller once sell used cars together in Ft. Worth during one of their broker moments?
Ari Davidow (ari) Thu 12 Jun 08 06:42
Interesting bit about Leon Russell. Leon =was= very big that year, and maybe the year following,and then kinda vanished. But I saw Willie just a year or so ago, and he was still great.
Joe Nick Patoski (joenickpatoski) Thu 12 Jun 08 07:14
Kurtr, Willie put his foot in Tin Pan Alley through the radio, once his family could afford a Philco. Not only did it bring the daily country and Western Swing radio programs into his home, but distant stations such as WWL in New Orleans that brought exotic sounds into the house. The cues from the radio were the same cues Booker T. Jones heard growing up in Memphis which inform their collaboration on the album Stardust. I was also struck how he was already phrasing like a jazz singer in the late 1950s while he was developing his performing style, and that Joe Allison, who signed him to Liberty Records in 1961, recognized his talent as a singer. His first album for Liberty is almost as much a pop album as it is a country album, reflective of the Nashville Sound that was trying to smooth over the rough edges of country music, and also reflective of Willie's inclinations. Even his look then - cleancut, wavy hair, sharp suits - was more pop than country. As he told me, "I liked dressing up." His recordings throughout the 1960s for RCA show his pop tendencies as well. Ed, I'm on the way to LA tomorrow. The Felix Chevrolet book signing is really part of a continuum. Back in the 1940s and 1950s, Felix sponsored Spade Cooley on the radio and Cliffie Stone's country music TV show, as well as wrestling on television. Felix remains linked to country music, sponsoring the classic country show Sundays on Country 105, the only commercial country radio station in LA. Willie's history is linked to car dealerships and car dealers. He bought an old clunker from his drummer, Paul English, in 1955. Paul and his older brother Oliver, who played guitar with Willie on the radio in Fort Worth in 1955 and introduced Willie to Paul, ran the car lot with Paul. Used car lots back in those days were convenient fronts for underworld characters. (Willie played and ran with Roger Miller in Fort Worth, but weren't involved with car lots or with hotels; I'd heard they were bellhops together at the Hotel Texas in Fort Worth, but there was no basis to that legend.) The first time I saw Willie when I got to Austin was at McMorris Ford, where his band played on a flatbed trailer surrounded by the new 1974 Fords in what was then the body shop. The Live Band come-on was part of a promotion that included free hotdogs and free sodas. McMorris also provided the first road vehicle for the band to haul their equipment around and sold Willie a Mercedes. Ari, It's real strange how quickly Leon burned his candle at both ends. He still plays, mostly in small clubs around Texas and Oklahoma, and uses a teleprompter to sing his lyrics. But that period in the early 1970s was very powerful. I think Willie was impressed with Leon's preaching skills in a rock and roll context. He was really leading a revival among the secular heathens.
My free and simple demeanor set everybody at ease. (pdl) Thu 12 Jun 08 07:18
This is a bit of a non-sequitor, from the more things change department, but i loved this quote from Oliver English. English is talking about their experience in Fort Worth in 1955 where they would play for hours on end, "We didn't make much money. Nobody did. A musician in it for the money was in the wrong business."
Joe Nick Patoski (joenickpatoski) Thu 12 Jun 08 08:30
Oliver was a real jewel. I'm convinced he was one of the first to put the ideas of Django Reinhardt into Willie's head and he was a deep link to Fort Worth's music past through elders such as Sock Underwood, Buddy Wallace, Buck Buchanan, and Johnny Strawn. Oliver was considered a jazz player among his FW peers although he played mainly country gigs. Oliver passed away last year and I was lucky to talk to him. Another Oliver observation about money that wasn't in the book. Sock told him: Hey boy, you play good. Someday youre going to be sorry. I figured that out when I put a real good band together and just flopped,' Oliver said. 'They [meaning audiences] didnt understand it. They didnt understand jazz.' In other words, he put together a great band and they couldn't draw flies. That's a hard lesson to learn.
John Schwartz (jswatz) Thu 12 Jun 08 08:47
Hey, Joe Nick! Will the book tour bring you to NYC?
David Julian Gray (djg) Thu 12 Jun 08 08:53
Yeah... or DC? If so, I'll try to come. The book is my main recreational reading now and I'm finding it a superior bio - very nice. the story of Bobbie's divorce from Fletcher and resigning herself to giving up music then serendipidously finding a music job at the state employment agency actual brought tears to my eyes... Loving reading about the organic growth of the Family band - it does seem all inexorable and of a piece ...
Joe Nick Patoski (joenickpatoski) Thu 12 Jun 08 10:18
jswatz and djg, I'm ready but if I were y'all I wouldn't hold my breath. It belatedly came to my attention that publishers don't really like signings at book stores unless you're a superstar author, which I am not. The LA dates were set up on my own. NY and DC would have to be the same. Welcome to book publishing in the middle of a paradigm shift. I'm hoping someone might ask me to speak or do something not in a book store in NY and DC because both cities are solid Willie markets. Heck, maybe I'll underwrite my own mini tour up east. Sister Bobbie Nelson told wonderful stories and I got the sense she hadn't been interviewed much. Of all the people around Willie, there is no one closer. She had a heck of a time dealing with the breakup from Bud. The strange thing is, as she told me about being the demo lady for Hammond organs, I recalled to her my childhood memories of seeing organ players in cafeterias and restaurants around Fort Worth in the late 1950s. I asked if she ever played Wyatt's Cafeteria on the west side? She sure did. Then she mentioned being a regular at El Chico Mexican restaurant on Camp Bowie Blvd. which was the only Mexican joint that our family frequented. It was then I realized I'd heard her as a child. As for the Family Band, maybe y'all can help me out. The last core member to join the band (there have been others shuffling in and out) was Billy English, who joined in 1984. What other acts in entertainment have had pretty much the same lineup since 1984? Someone mentioned U2. I'm trying to think of anyone else. Regardless, Willie has had stability in his band like no one else in this business we call show.
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